The neighbours have gotten a little used to seeing a flash of steel in the front yard. When the hot weather comes and the sun shines, we come out from under the bridge. In the rain, the local skytrain station provides us a sheltered spot to keep our blades rust free. But when the time comes, and it’s the brief but glorious Vancouver drought season? It’s time to roam the parks and fields.

So from time to time my front yard hosts a little swordplay. It’s not a big yard, so we do a lot of slow work. I like to walk on the grass barefoot, circling a client with a critical eye, looking for hardwired reflexes that need to pared away. Finding bad bits of muscle mojo that need to be chiseled off, and new plaster put in place.

At first there was curiosity, and the occasional question, but it faded with time. It was just a neighbour thing, like the guy who rebuilds exotic antique cars. Nifty, but just part of the scenery. But that all changes when the big blades come out.

A two hander is a fearsome blade. It brings out something primal in the watchers. The quiet neighbours hide out. As we whipped the big blades around, I could see some of the menfolk out, leaning over their fences and watching. They watched, and they kept watching. We moved through the grass, repeating a basic practice form, over and over. Faster, slower, changing a hand position here, footwork there.

Great big blades whickering through the air, us drenched with sweat in the afternoon sun. Moving to slow work, the crack and ping and slide of blades rattling off each other. It’s slow work, but from the neighbours point of view, it must be a bit boggling to see a big piece of steel move so nimbly.

Zweihander play is a joyful art. The deadly seriousness of it gives it a formal air, and the practice is rigid and precise. It’s demanding, and unforgiving in impact…mistakes are not tolerated well. But even so, when the steel moves, the heart moves. The big iron demands a playful and exuberant spirit, perfectly suited to August in a Pacific town.

We wrapped up our practice, and the neighbours went inside, back to their internet, their games, their reality tv. They sat in their dark, cool and comfortable houses, cozy on the couch. Maybe they wondered about what they had seen. Maybe they thought about days long gone. Maybe they thought about things they could be doing with their lives, sitting in the comfortable coolness.

Us? We put the big blades away, and got on with our days. I grabbed my wallet and put on shoes, and headed downtown to run some errands. But every step I was smiling, my shoulders still warm and achy from the swordplay. My hands still twitching a little as I thought about moves, the feel of the leather hilt fresh on my fingers. No cool dark for me, just more hot sun, and good memories still to come.